Aguirre: The Wrath of God (1972) / Adventure-Drama
aka Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes
MPAA Rated: Not rated, but probably PG-13 today for violence and brief nudity
Running Time: 94 min.
Cast: Klaus Kinski, Del Negro, Helena Rojo, Ruy Guerra, Peter Berling, Cecilia Rivera, Daniel Ades
Director: Werner Herzog
Screenplay: Werner Herzog
Review published October 18, 2005
Werner Herzog's haunting, fictionalized odyssey set in 1560 tells the tale of a group of Spaniards out to find the fabled city of El Dorado, rumored to have an unlimited wealth of gold. Klaus Kinski plays the mutinous Aguirre, the soldier that is second in command of this expedition, who leads his ever-dwindling supply of men and slaves into the vast and untamed jungles of Peru in search of conquests, fame, glory, and wealth beyond their imaginations. They meet calamity at every turn, but Aguirre is ever vigilant, sure that his place in history will be secure, if only he can tell the tale of how he conquered the lands.
Filmed with a modest budget, Herzog overcomes his financial shortcomings with an interesting character study on how greed and power intoxicates. While the subject matter is as serious as can be, there is a level of amusement in seeing the folly of these deluded men, as their delusions of grandeur seem to multiply as the number of men in their party decrease. Kinski is riveting as the man trying to leave his permanent mark on history, walking in almost inhuman fashion as he sizes up his situation and determines to press on despite the constant calamity. However, the real star of this production is the harrowing jungle itself, full of mystery and danger, keeping the men scared to death of setting fut on land, willing to chance it in the open air of a raft slowly moving down a river of constant death.
Looking back at Aguirre from today's perspective, it's hard to divorce one's feelings from watching a very similar riverboat odyssey, Apocalypse Now. It's hard to imagine Coppola not being influenced by Herzog's atmospheric, dreamlike photography. From the beginning it is clear that these men are in over their heads, trying to overpower a land and peoples that have remained untamed since the beginning of time, but their thirst for gold and power prevents them from seeing what should be obvious. Herzog's style feels very much like a documentary, as we are an unknown crew member witnessing these events right along side these men on their journey into madness.
©2005 Vince Leo